My 90-Year-Old Toddler
by Donna L. Scrafano
As a younger woman, some years ago, I recall older women and a few older men discussing the reverse roles they had experienced between themselves and their elderly parents. I didn’t give it much thought. Quite frankly the mere idea that my mother, the matriarch of our family, and my father, the strong-but-silent provider, would one day be dependent on me was inconceivable.
Then it happened. First my mother became ill. The caregiving time frame for her was 2004 through 2013 because she had lost most of her ability to do physical and mental tasks. I was handed the baton of “parent,” and the reversal had begun. In 2009 my father underwent open-heart surgery. The recovery period was quite a burden since my mother was not only unable to help me with my father but required care herself. And so the reversal of roles continued.
Following my mother’s death in 2013, it was evident that my father was unable to live alone safely. Although my father is generally a quiet man, he was stubborn and refused to leave his home. So, being the overly responsible daughter that I am, I obliged and moved in with him. Almost immediately afterward, he suffered several health issues within a three-month span and was rendered totally dependent on me. My father could no longer drive, write out checks, balance his checkbook, or prepare his food. Nor did he think he could make important decisions without consulting me. I believe that the process of role reversal sneaks up on you. One minute you’re looking to your parent for approval, and just like that, or though it seems, your parent is looking to you for your approval.
After the three years of living with my father, he has become more infantile. I worry if he is going to fall, since his balance is very unstable. I not only prepare his food, I must also cut it in small pieces so that he can handle it. I have hired a certified nursing assistant to complete his hygiene issues, and I prepare and administer his medications. I not only attend all of his doctor appointments, I report on his progress. I also remind him when to use the potty and change his adult diapers. When I want to attend an outside activity, I must find, as I call it, a “Pop sitter.” He sometimes whines a little about not being able to go with me. This made me feel guilty at first, as I did when my children were small. I have gotten over that, however. He is also more demanding in that he has no awareness of the toll taking care of him has on me. For example, he will ask to be taken for a ride in the car when I am completely exhausted. Childlike, for sure.
When I was younger, I never once suspected that I would be in this role. I could never view my father in this condition nor could I have suspected that I would be “parenting” him. My father led a dignified life. Where is the dignity, for him, in this role reversal?
Then one day, after feeling frustrated about all the things involved with the role reversal, it dawned on me that the strong, dependable, reliable man I once knew as my father no longer existed. I realized that my frustration was not about doing the household tasks, it was about my father not being able to do them anymore. My strong father became frail, demented, and helpless. Toddler-like. Broken.
Sad as it is for us family members, we continue to keep smiling, taking “Pop” to activities we think he may enjoy, taking him for rides in the car, having him attend his day program, all while trying to understand that this stage is part of the end-of-life process.
Photo credit: pexels.com
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna’s relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her six grandchildren, writing, spending time with friends, and applying self-care. Her current full-time position is care-taking her 90-year-old father.